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I've never heard the phrase "ocean foam" used in this manner, so I'm not sure of it's meaning. I think I can gather a little from the context, but I'd like to know for sure. I can only find the literal meaning from online searches.

(An Observatory Telephotographer (Beenay 25) is talking to a newspaper columnist (Theremon 762) at a scientific observatory during a possibly catastrophic eclipse when stars may be seen for the first time)

But Beenay had drawn his chair closer, and there was an expression of sudden enthusiasm on his face. 'Say, I'm glad you two got onto this subject.' His eyes narrowed and he lifted one finger. 'I've been thinking about these Stars and I've got a really cute notion. Of course it's strictly ocean foam, and I'm not trying to advance it seriously, but I think it's interesting. Do you want to hear it?

From the short story "Nightfall" written in the US in 1940 by a 20-year-old Isaac Asimov. Probably in Brooklyn, New York.
(I'm reading a 1974 "Best of" publication)

From there, the character talks about his scientific speculation, which is seemingly wondrous, maybe even far-fetched from his point of view but to the reader, It's familiar and factual (i.e. The idea of a planet orbiting a single sun, thus having a period of night).

As well as the meaning, I'd also like to know...

  • Was it a well-used phrase and meaning at the time of writing?
  • Is this phrase and meaning still in use today?
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    "Not everything" is a phrase ... is it not? @Lambie :)
    – n00dles
    Apr 4, 2021 at 15:54
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    I think it has more the connotation of “insubstantial” rather than food for thought. Apr 4, 2021 at 16:23
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    It is a nonce term, probably the equivalent of "spitballing"...in this case, "ocean foam" refers to something frothy, and short-lived. Apr 4, 2021 at 16:35
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    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_foam. "Ocean foam" is used metaphorically - there is no more to it than that. The foam itself is exceptionally light and structurally weak.
    – Greybeard
    Apr 4, 2021 at 16:45
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    Not everything is a pre-existing phrase that you can google. That's what creative writing is. And the preceding text would be useful. Ocean foam is more than hot air.
    – Lambie
    Apr 4, 2021 at 16:59

2 Answers 2

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No, it was not a common phrase in 1974. I have never heard it used in the past 60 years.

It sounds like a phrase that Beenay coined, and he expected the reader to grok its meaning from the context, as you did. Ocean foam is not solid, it does not have a solid structure, and he was using it as a metaphor for his hypothesis on the matter.

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    It would have been 1940, when it was written
    – n00dles
    Apr 4, 2021 at 16:48
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    But yeah, that "structure" metaphor makes sense from a scientific perspective (The writer completed his MA in chemistry around the same time of writing). So it would make sense he'd use a term like this to describe a theoretical postulation or speculation that might not hold up under examination.
    – n00dles
    Apr 4, 2021 at 17:16
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Actually Jude 1:13 talks a similar line of “their shameful deeds show up like foam on wild ocean waves…”.(CEV) I’m Googling to understand better because I also just found an Egyptian name translated in 2 Timothy 3 means “foamy healer”, which apparently means a Diviner/Soothsayer. When I was reading the history of Jude they said he had classical type Greek Poetry.

It seems this is not just an artistic expression from the book, and something that probably used to be more in use back when a lot of America went to church.

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